MISSION VALLEY — Smiling Mission Valley Elementary School students waved as they enjoyed a hay ride on the back of a tractor on campus. Elsewhere, students danced, churned their own butter and learned to make sweet treats.
But even with all of that going on, the star of the show for a group of first grade students was a raised planting bed with a few vibrant green leaves peaking out of the black soil.
“I think our students are going to be attached to that box right over there,” said Katie Shafer, a first grade teacher at Mission Valley, as she pointed out the group of students.
The students huddled tight around the planting bed while master gardener Mike Martignoni taught them how to press seeds into soil and plant pre-grown sprouts to ensure their survival. If the students properly care for the bed, in a month or two those seeds and sprouts will blossom into bountiful turnips and cauliflower, ready to be eaten after a quick wash.
Mission Valley held an agriculture day for their students Monday, educating them about how their food goes from a farm to their table.
The purpose of the day was to expose the students to agriculture and educate them about the processes of growing food, said fifth grade teacher Joycelyn Drozd.
“It’s a different way of learning,” she said. “It’s hands-on and giving them a different perspective of things that don’t get to normally happen in the classroom.”
Drozd said that she feels as though education is drifting away from life skills such as gardening and it is important to introduce those skills to students through programs like Mission Valley’s agriculture day.
The hands-on learning involved planting cabbage, kohlrabi, cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, peppers, turnips, wax beans and flowers, Drozd said.
There is the hope that the excitement of watching something grow from nothing more than a seed into a thriving plant giving off bounties of vegetables will convince the students to try something new, Martignoni said. In past years, students have been known to eat raw kale from the garden while at recess.
“They’ve got a hand in it,” he said. “They raised it. They’ll eat it.”
First grader Nathaniel Payne said that while he doesn’t like the carrots he planted that much, he eats green beans often and is excited to try the yellow wax beans come harvest time.
When the agriculture day is over and the normal curriculum resumes at Mission Valley, the students will continue to tend to the garden during their recess periods, Drozd said.
“Each grade level has their own boxes, so we tell them, ‘You all need to come out and water and pull weeds and do your thing,” she said.
Encouragement to care for the garden hasn’t been a problem in past years, Drozd said. Students often have the opposite problem and need to be told to not over-tend to the garden.
While Mission Valley’s two first grade classes toiled away in the garden, former Mission Valley teacher Rhonda Goebel taught students about the path dairy products take to get from the cow to the supermarket and onto dinner tables.
Goebel discussed the different variations of dairy cows, how they produce milk and how different dairy products are created from that milk. After explaining the different techniques to churn cream and separate it into butter and buttercream, Goebel had the students shake small jars of cream until it solidified and transformed into butter.
Once students tasted their own fresh-churned butter on crackers, they moved on to the final agriculture education station of the day: making easy, no-bake apple pie.
The pie recipe is a modified one that children can make in a single cup with just graham cracker, apple filling, and whipped cream, and requires no oven or knives to cook and serve, said physical education teacher Amanda Tomas, who led the pie-making station.
The next step for the school garden isn’t just another agriculture day next year, Drozd said. Instead, she wants to plant a spring garden that would include tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans and bell peppers.
“We’ll see how this progresses, but I like to try and always do a fall and a spring garden,” she said.